POLS ON THE STREET: Look out, Incumbents! Here They Come

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RAISING her hand to take the oath of office, just like her role model, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, was 5-year-old Abby, daughter of Congressman Brendan Boyle, accompanied by her stuffed animal.

An amazing number of candidates is testing the waters for a district City Council race this season. It would be an uphill climb, since no district incumbent seems inclined to quit, leaving an open seat for newcomers; and the power of incumbency is strong.

But political activism is in the air in 2019. Interest that is stirring at the national level may be filtering down to the municipal arena. An anti-establishment mood encourages challengers.

Running for office isn’t quite like flipping an off-on switch; it is more like pumping a dimmer switch up or down. As a rule, the formal “announcement” of candidacy follows an elaborate process of testing the waters, showing up in the community, setting up media, researching costs, sniffing out funds and developing allies.

FAREED ABDULLAH formally entered the race for City Council at large last week. His initial base is in North Philadelphia. Photo by Robert Mendelssohn

But anyone who is serious about running should make an official announcement no later than the first week of February. Since ballot petitions start to be circulated on Feb. 19, serious contenders must be ready to rock and roll at least two weeks earlier.

We took a look at challengers in four districts – with more to come next week.

In the 1st Councilmanic District, which stretches along the Delaware River from South Philadelphia to Port Richmond, Lou Lanni has thrown his hat into the ring against Councilman Mark Squilla.

No stranger to the political life, Lanni ran before for State representative in Center City’s 182nd Legislative District.

While no one takes lightly the task of opposing the popular Squilla, Lanni has an unusual combination of attributes that may help him chip away at the incumbent on several fronts. As a successful businessman, he can talk knowledgeably with potential funders who may have issue with the councilman. As an LGBTQ candidate, he can appeal to an important constituency in the heart of that district. As a retired police officer, he can address the concerns of bluecollar Pennsport dwellers as well as opioid-tormented Kensington residents.

NEWLY elected State Rep. Joe Hohenstein opened his office in Bridesburg at 4725 Richmond Street. It was a grand party celebrated by Northeast Mummers, with a host of Northeast ward leaders in attendance.

In the 4th District, which takes in West Philly’s Overbrook and Wynnefield as well as Northwest Philly’s East Falls, Roxborough and Manayunk, sources report that attorney Karla Cruel is on the verge of challenging Council Majority Leader Curtis Jones, Jr., perhaps announcing next week.

Cruel works with Tenant Union Representative Network and has dealt extensively with City Council on tenants’ rights. Her résumé spans teaching and living abroad. Entrepreneurship is a key theme with her.

“People who have the ear of the positions of power get what they want,” she said. “I really enjoy helping people.”

NATIONAL Korean American Day was marked by raising the South Korean flag outsider City Hall last week. Council Members David Oh and Helen Gym joined a Korean children’s choir in singing both South Korean and American national anthems, preceded by a rousing traditional drum performance.

Cruel is not the only hopeful one eyeing entry into the 4th District race. Two others may announce later.

Contestants will face a stiff test taking on Jones, who is an astute networker with long experience in his communities. But it’s an odd district that takes in neighborhoods that don’t have much everyday commerce with each other, so it is intrinsically hard to make everyone happy all the time there.

And it is also a district where – to put it delicately – a disproportionate number of Philadelphians live who think they are smart enough to run things.

The 7th District is the opposite of the 4th. It encompasses communities in North and Northeast Philadelphia along with Kensington. It has few pockets of wealth, multiple public needs.

And nobody has ever been in charge here. The Latino barrio that dominates the district is famously fissile, split by rivalries. There will be a “Latino boss” for Philadelphia when pigs have wings.

OMAR SABIR’S team went down gloriously last Sunday but his fundraising team held up splendidly at Haute Lounge in Center City to watch the Eagles game. L-R were many candidates, including Michele Hangley, David Krain, Leanne Litwin, Sabir, Carmella Jacquinto, State Rep. Jordan Harris and Greg Weyer. Photo by Wendell Douglas

Councilwoman Maria Quiñones Sanchez broke through the crowd of established Latino politicos when she was elected in 2015. But she has not succeeded in overthrowing other political leaders in her district.

Today, one of them is coming at her. State Rep. Angel Cruz (D-Kensington), who has been around a lot longer than Quiñones Sánchez, is going up against her. It’ll be a real test: Who knows you and whom do you know? This is a low-turnout area, so turnout experts hold the upper hand here.

SUPPORTERS of Mumia Abu-Jamal rallied at the A-Space in Cedar Park to demand the investigation of six boxes of evidence discovered at the District Attorney’s Office as this controversial case faces new judicial developments. Rachel Wolkenstein was an attorney in Abu-Jamal’s last appeal. Michael Africa, Jr. is the son of a MOVE participant who was recently released from prison. Photo by Wendell Douglas

The 8th District, mostly in Northwest Philadelphia, takes in challenged neighborhoods of Nicetown, Tioga, Olney and Germantown with solid middle-class rowhouse blocks and progressive, integrated Germantown, Mount Airy and Chestnut Hill. There is real money in the latter three.

Tonya Bah, an Olney resident, identifies more with the former. But her progressive credentials – she was a delegate whip for Bernie Sanders – may pique the interest of major backers further up Germantown Avenue.

The 8th District incumbent is never safe from challenges. Like the 4th District, it is populated by people of diverse backgrounds despite similar policies. In such an environment, it’s whom you know that counts. Councilwoman Cindy Bass knows all this better than anybody.

Bah is running a “grassroots campaign” devoid of big backers. She stresses her background as a community organizer for inner-city environmental issues like the proposed Nicetown PGW plant.

A mother of two autistic sons in the School District of Philadelphia, she is an educational activist with a classic home & school association background. The Olney resident has led campaigns against standardized testing, starting a parents’ movement with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers’ Caucus of Working Educators.

Housing is also a core issue for Bah. “As a first step, City Council must pass legislation that requires developers to pay a construction impact tax. By charging a few dollars per square foot of new construction, we could generate $14 million for the Housing Trust Fund every year. We also must adopt rent control, housing cooperatives, and land trusts.” These are core issues in her district.

Other candidates are also probing the 8th District. And there is money at stake. Development is lively in parts of the Northwest and prominent developer Ken Weinstein has opposed the Germantown Special Services District, an entity championed by Bass. He thinks it has retarded redeveloper in Germantown. Should he choose to put his money where his mouth is, he could ignite a candidacy for Bah or another.

190th Legislative Dist. Seethes with Tension as Special Election Looms

The special election to fill former State Rep. Vanessa Lowery Brown’s seat in West Philadelphia will depend entirely on the vote of a handful of Democratic ward leaders; that’s obvious.

Whoever wins their endorsement will win. This is not a “primary” but a two-party general election, in which Democratic ward leaders pick their candidate and Republican ward leaders can’t even get on the board.

Intense jockeying is taking place around the endorsement by ward leaders for this seat. Seven candidates’ names have been whispered. But the final decision will be taken next week.

Some have grumbled that candidates are being asked to contribute to the electoral efforts of the Democratic organizations in those wards.

Realistically, though, if all Dems do not fund GOTV efforts in West Philadelphia on an ongoing basis, they will weaken their community’s voice in councils of state.

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